Newsflash: Volkswagen sluit T-Roc GTE niet uit

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+++ It’s a known fact that ASTON MARTIN has been going through a rough patch lately, but there might be a light at the end of the tunnel following a major investment made by Lawrence Stroll who owns the Racing Point F1 team. As part of the investment deal, the Canadian billionaire has taken a 16.7 % in Aston Martin for £182 million and has been named executive chairman. How will the cash infusion help the sports car marque shape up its future? The company’s CEO, Andy Palmer, says a new business model will be implemented as Aston Martin aims to become the “British Ferrari” by manufacturing fewer sports cars and selling them at a higher profit margin. Palmer says the company made 5.800 vehicles for wholesale last year and plans on building fewer in 2020 in a bid to make the Gaydon marque a more exclusive brand: “It’s time for us to make good and try to become the British Ferrari, asking customers to spec their cars individually and wait for them to be built. The DBX is already showing how we mean to go on. We’re building those cars only for retail and our order book for 2020 is full”. Andy Palmer is hoping Lawrence Stroll’s experience as a long-time Ferrari importer (and huge collector of Prancing Horses) will help Aston Martin build a more effective business plan. The first order of business is to clear off remaining stock and then focus on build-to-order cars while making sure the DBX’s “quality is perfect” from the very first batch of customer cars. Beyond the DBX, Aston Martin has a lot on its plate in regards to mid-engined cars as Andy Palmer told the Valkyrie is still on track for a 2020 release, followed by the Valhalla in 2022 and the new Vanquish in 2023. The company is also working on a new twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 engine while developing a plug-in hybrid powertrain; both of which the CEO wants to see integrated into the lineup “as soon as possible”. The Lagonda subbrand has been put on the backburner but Palmer hopes it will become a priority around the middle of the decade. As for the Rapide E, a production version of the electric saloon is still not happening, but Aston Martin’s CEO sees the silver lining in this setback as the lessons learned during the development phase will come in handy when the time will come to invest heavily in EVs. +++

+++ The BUSAN INTERNATIONAL MOTOR SHOW , already rumored to be the last after years of declining attendance, has been canceled in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The motor show organizing committee announced in a statement that it will be canceling the biennial motor show this year. It was originally scheduled for 11 days, starting May 28. The committee added that the motor show will return in 2022. The Busan International Motor Show is 1 of the 2 main events for Korea’s automobile sector, along with the Seoul Motor Show. This year’s Busan International Motor Show was to be the global launch site for BMW’s redesigned flagship 5 Series. BMW Korea said it is working with its German headquarters to arrange alternative plans for the launch of the new 5 Series. Many had expected that this year’s iteration, if held as scheduled, could be the end for the Busan motor show. The number of visitors to the biennial exhibition was already in decline, falling from more than 1.1 million during its inaugural event in 2012 to 620.000 by 2018. The motor show was under pressure even before the virus outbreak, as only 3 foreign brands (BMW, Mini and Cadillac) had registered to exhibit, while Hyundai, Kia, Renault Samsung and General Motors Korea were registered only as local participants. The Busan exhibition joins a number of auto shows that have been canceled or postponed due to concerns with mass gatherings following the coronavirus outbreak. Europe’s first major annual auto show of the year, the Geneva International Motor Show, originally set to begin March 5, was canceled. The Vancouver International Auto Show, the North American International Auto Show and the Paris Motor Show were also all canceled. +++

+++ CHINA ’s auto market, the world’s biggest, will gradually recover and remain stable for a long period despite short-term pressure from the coronavirus epidemic, officials said. The statement came as executives from Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen said demand is rebounding in China after restrictions on social life were eased and dealerships reopened. China’s auto sales dropped 79% from a year earlier in February due to the epidemic. However, the situation was temporary and didn’t affect long-term trends in the industry, Cai Ronghua, a senior official at National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told. He noted the broader impact of any further downturn in the sector. “If auto production and sales continue to decline, it will not only affect the industry itself, but also affect the resumption of production in other industries and may even affect the smooth operation of the entire economy”, Cai said, adding auto production had not so far been affected by global auto parts supply disruption. Separately, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) is considering postponing the implementation of new gasoline emission standards in some provinces, Wu Xianfeng, a senior official at MEE, said. Volkswagen, the world’s largest carmaker and China’s best- selling manufacturer, said showroom traffic during the last weekend of March had rebounded to year-earlier levels after its dealerships re-opened as measures to contain the pandemic were eased. The SAIC Volkswagen factory in Changsha resumed operations this week, putting all but one of VW Group’s 33 car and component plants in China back in business, VW said. Volkswagen Group China CEO Stephan Wöllenstein said: “Our dealerships are seeing customers on the showroom floors once again. There are growing signs of recovery, with a good chance that the Chinese car market could reach last year’s level in early summer”. Daimler, which owns the Mercedes-Benz brand, said Chinese demand had recovered to near pre-crisis levels and its factory in Beijing had resumed production running a 2-shift system. “In China and South Korea our dealerships are fully open and we see a significant increase in demand there. That gives us confidence”, Daimler board member Britta Seeger said. In addition to its Chinese plants, Daimler wants to resume production at its German plants in Untertürkheim, Hamburg und Berlin on April 20, followed by a ramp up at its plants in Sindelfingen und Bremen. +++

+++ The rapid global spread of the CORONA VIRUS is having a major impact on all aspects of society, including the car industry. Production facilities have been closed around the world, the dramatic stock market falls has hit the value of virtually every car firm, vehicle sales are dropping dramatically and most major motorsport events have been cancelled. This is my round-up of how the car world is being impacted: Jaguar Land Rover and Ford increase support for emergency services, production to restart. Daimler plans to restart production at some of its German plants as early as 20 April, as demand for cars from China is on the rebound. Car factories in Sindelfingen and Bremen are to resume work, alongside some van factories. However, the maker is extending shorter hours for German workers until the end of the month. Audi also plans to resume production at its factories in Neckarsulm, Germany and Brussels, Belgium on 20 April. The former produces the A4, A5, A6, A7 and A8, while the latter builds the e-Tron. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has begun discussions with unions on restarting production in Italy as soon as the national shutdown is ended. The current shutdown expires on 13 April, and some reports indicate it may not be renewed as the country is over the peak of cases. FCA is discussing stringent health measures to put in place if it restarts production at that time. Jaguar Land Rover has expanded its support for emergency response organisations around the world by increasing the number of vehicles it’s loaning to support services and commencing deliveries of 3D-printed protective visors. The firm had already loaned more than 160 vehicles from its press fleet to organisations including the British Red Cross and National Health Service and has now deployed 312 vehicles globally. They include a total of 210 in the United Kingdom, 14 of which are being used by the West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust to help test staff isolating with coronavirus symptoms. The firm has also loaned vehicles to Red Cross branches and other organisations in Spain, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Germany and Belgium. Jaguar Land Rover has also started delivering to NHS staff 3D-printed protective visors that it designed and is producing at its Gayden base. It’s aiming to produce around 5.000 masks per week in the UK. It has also made the files open-source so other firms can produce the visors. Jaguar Land Rover Brazil has also started producing the visors at its facility in Rio de Janeiro. The Volkswagen Group has donated €1 million to provide emergency relief for refugees in Syria, Turkey and Greece who are threatened by the coronavirus pandemic. The fund will be distributed via the German Red Cross and will be used to buy and distribute food and medical supplies, as well as providing training and equipment for volunteers. General Motors and partner Ventec Life Systems have secured a $489.4 million contract with the US government to produce 30.000 ventilators by the end of August. The units will be based on a Ventec design and produced at GM’s Indiana plant. A fifth of the order is due to delivered by 1 June. GM had previously attracted the ire of president Donald Trump, who had accused it of not responding to the coronavirus outbreak and threatened to invoke the Defence Production Act to compel it to make ventilators. However, GM and Ventec had already been working on the ventilator project for more than a week at the time of Trump’s statements. Toyota has extended the production shutdown at all its North American factories until at least 1 May. +++

+++ HYUNDAI ’s Czech plant plans to restart on April 14 after a 3-week production outage as part of efforts to fight the coronavirus, becoming the first of the 3 major carmakers in the central European country to resume work. The car industry is central to the Czech economy and its closure since mid-March has had knock-on effects for the many companies that supply it. Hyundai, which produced 309.500 cars last year, will start up again on next Tuesday but with 2 shifts rather than the usual 3, a spokesman said. Skoda, the country’s biggest exporter and a part of the Volkswagen Group, said it would extend its closure until April 27. TPCA, a joint venture of Toyota and PSA, is expected to resume production towards the end of next week. +++

+++ KIA ’s 8-seat Telluride is the 2020 World Car of the Year. This is the first time the Korean auto brand has won the top award. The automaker also took home the World Urban Car award for its e-Soul, which beat the Volkswagen T-Cross and the Mini Electric. The Toronto-based World Car Awards, launched in 2004, are 1 of 3 major global automotive award programs; the others being the North American Car and Truck of the Year and European Car of the Year awards. Judges on a panel comprising 86 automotive journalists from 24 countries cast secret ballots to pick the best car of the year. According to Kia, the Telluride, a SUV, beat 2 other candidates in the final round, the Mazda CX-30 and the Mazda 3. The company said Kia’s vehicles won 2 of 5 awards at this year’s edition. Hyundai’s Nexo was nominated for World Green Car, but failed to get the final nod. “The Telluride and the e-Soul have been recognized as outstanding models at the world’s most competitive automotive awards. We will continue to make all-out efforts to manufacture the attractive, practical and high-quality vehicle”, said Thomas Schemera, executive vice president of Kia. The Telluride is currently only sold in the North American market and is manufactured in the US state of Georgia. +++

 

+++ There were rumours that LAND ROVER could build a pickup based on the new Defender but back in November last year, those speculations were smashed by a high-level insider from the company. The unnamed source said back then that the new 5-door Defender is already quite practical and is essentially “a pickup with a roof”. A new report reaffirms the British manufacturer’s plans to ditch the idea of a Defender pickup. A pickup is “technically possible” on the D7x platform but it doesn’t make business sense because Land Rover is not an expert in the commercial pickup market. That doesn’t mean the automaker is not considering further additions to the new Defender’s lineup and it is believed a smaller, baby Defender. Also, previously leaked documents revealed that, in addition to the 90 and 110, Land Rover intends to launch a bigger 130 version. The increased size of the off-roader would reportedly allow for seating for up to 8 occupants. Another important addition to the Defender’s range would be a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Also, over-the-air software upgrades will let the company upgrade the multiple ECUs so that the SUV’s abilities can remain at the cutting edge. +++

+++ LEXUS introduced the LC Convertible at last year’s Los Angeles Auto Show and now the company is following up by unveiling the updated coupe. Looking instantly recognizable, the 2021 modelyear LC Coupe has a familiar design as the biggest exterior change is a revised color palette that now includes Cadmium Orange and Nori Green Pearl. The new colors are joined by restyled 20-inch alloy wheels with a Dark Graphite finish. The modest updates continue in the cabin as the 10.3-inch infotainment system now supports Android Auto. It was a notable omission as the car already supported Apple CarPlay. Besides the improved connectivity, the interior has revised upholstery. The Bespoke White leather option has been dropped, while Flare Red leather replaces the previous Rioja Red. Bigger changes occur underneath the skin as engineers managed to eliminate approximately 10 kg of unsprung weight. In order to accomplish this, they added new suspension stabilizers, aluminum components, high-strength coil springs and lighter rear wheels. Speaking of the suspension, it has been revamped to deliver an “enhanced connection to the road”. Among the changes are more rigid rear stabilizers and a longer front stroke. The Vehicle Stability Control system has also been equipped with a new Active Cornering Assist function which brakes the inner wheels to allow for more spirited driving in corners. Last but not least, the LC 500’s 10-speed automatic transmission has been equipped with a new shift logic that allows for higher revs before changing gears. Lexus says they focused on the so-called “active zone” which is “where most drivers find themselves at in the 50-70 % throttle range”. Engineers also made changes to the 500h as it will now “downshifts into second gear, instead of third, to allow for smoother operation and more robust acceleration out of hairpin turns”. The engine options are carried over and include a 5.0-liter V8 that produces 478 hp and 539 Nm. It enables the LC 500 to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in just 4.7 seconds. Customers looking for something more eco-friendly can get the LC 500h which has a 3.5-liter V6 engine, 2 electric motors, a 4-speed automatic gearbox and a lithium-ion battery. This enables the hybrid to produce a combined maximum output of 359 hp. Lexus didn’t say when the 2021 LC will go on sale, but the company has a press launch scheduled for this summer. +++

+++ MCLAREN is advancing plans to create a development car that runs on synthetic fuel to prove the technology’s validity as an alternative to battery-electric vehicles for lowering the ecological impact of motoring, Chief Operating Officer Jens Ludmann has revealed. While the project is still in the planning stage, Ludmann revealed that the company believes synthetic fuels can be a viable alternative to electric power if the production of batteries is included as part of an EV’s total CO2 impact. Ludmann said: “The technology around synthetic fuels is still being developed, but if you consider that it can be produced using solar energy, easily transported and then pumped into cars as we know today, there are potential benefits in terms of emissions and practicality that I’m keen to explore. Today’s engines would need only small modifications, and I would like to see this technology get some more airtime”. However, Ludmann stressed that he doesn’t envisage synthetic fuel engines replacing battery-electric vehicles. “It’s too hard to say with certainty how far off synthetic fuel is from reaching production reality”, he said, “whereas battery technology is here. Then you also have the potential to combine synthetic fuel with a hybrid system, which would make it cleaner still. I’m not saying this to hold back battery technology but rather to highlight that there could be valid alternatives that we should consider”. +++

+++ NISSAN has requested a $4.6 billion commitment line from major lenders to cushion the impact of the coronavirus pandemic while it seeks to engineer a desperately needed turnaround, people with knowledge of the matter said. As the virus decimates car demand and disrupts production across the industry, Nissan is particularly vulnerable, still reeling from sharp drops in profits after decades of aggressive expansion as well as management chaos due to the scandal surrounding ousted leader Carlos Ghosn. Nissan is requesting the 500 billion yen in funding given the possibility the impact of the coronavirus on production and demand could continue for an extended period, one of the people said. The amount has not been finalised, the second person said. The sources declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to the media. A Nissan spokeswoman said the company had enough cash for its current business operations but the automaker was looking at various options to prepare for a possible crisis. She declined to comment further. Nissan’s new CEO Makoto Uchida has been tasked with delivering an aggressive recovery plan next month after the automaker’s board deemed an earlier plan by his predecessor to cut 10 % of the company’s global work force as insufficient to ensure the company’s survival. In February, Nissan posted its first quarterly net loss in nearly a decade, and for the year ended March operating profit is expected to plunge 85 % to 49 billion yen ($450 million), according to an estimate. That would be the lowest amount since a loss posted in the year ended March 2009 during the global financial crisis. As of December, its automotive operations had negative free cash flow of 670.9 billion yen; an increase of nearly 7-fold from a year ago. Net cash for its automotive business stood at 847.5 billion yen, with Nissan having burned through nearly 40 % of net cash over the year. The Nikkei business daily reported Nissan is seeking the commitment line from Mizuho Financial and 2 other major commercial banking groups, as well as from the government-backed Development Bank of Japan (DBJ). Mizuho and DBJ declined to comment. But even automakers with strong financial positions have sought credit lines to weather the pandemic. Toyota last month sought a credit line totalling 1 trillion yen from local banks, sources told. Toyota declined to comment. +++

+++ As mentioned above, the results are in and the Kia Telluride has been named the 2020 World Car of the Year. This news isn’t too surprising, but the model beat out the Mazda 3 and Mazda CX-30 to take top honors. The jury of 86 automotive journalists praised the Telluride for its combination of style, comfort and significance. It also got high marks for being affordable and safe. While the Telluride took the title award, the PORSCHE Taycan pulled off an impressive feat as it was named World Luxury Car and World Performance Car. The competition was much stiffer in these categories as they included the Mercedes EQ C and Toyota Supra as well as Porsche’s own 911. The jury was blown away by the Taycan’s performance, appeal, innovation and significance. It also got high marks for safety and the interior. The biggest negative, unsurprisingly, was the price. The Mazda 3 won World Car Design of the Year. The decision will likely prove controversial and the car won by the narrowest of margins. When all the votes were totaled, the Mazda 3 got 179 points while the Taycan came up short with 177. +++

+++ Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) delivered downgrades to France’s top car companies RENAULT and PSA, cutting Renault’s bonds to ‘junk’ status due to the impact of the new coronavirus. S&P downgraded Renault to ‘BB+/B’ from ‘BBB-/A-3’, meaning it had ascribed a “junk bond” status to those Renault corporate bonds. “French automaker Renault has an ample liquidity cushion and can, in our view, count on guarantees from the French state”, S&P wrote in a research note. “We nevertheless expect Renault’s earnings, free cash flow generation and financial position to weaken materially in 2020, following an already challenging 2019”. S&P kept a BBB- rating on PSA, but it cut its outlook to “negative” from “stable”. Data earlier this month showed that French car registrations had dropped by more than 72 % in March due to the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown ordered by authorities to fight the epidemic spread. +++

+++ With many countries around the world forcing people into quarantine, carmakers and dealerships are increasing their reliance on online sales platforms. In the United Kingdom, SKODA has revamped its Virtual Showroom program that it hopes will ensure people keep buying cars. As prospective customers cannot visit a Skoda dealership, 6 employees from the automaker have new Kamiq, Superb, Octavia and Karoq models parked in their driveways. They are providing video calls where customers are given a tour of the car through a livestream. Skoda UK says that within the last week since the service went fully remote, hundreds of video calls have been made. Customers looking at a Skoda model other than the Kamiq, Superb, Octavia, and Karoq are provided with pre-recorded video footage. “Our dedicated specialists have been quick to adapt to the current environment and we have worked extremely hard to ensure they can continue offering support to our customers when they need it”, said John French, head of sales operations at Skoda UK. “I’d like to thank these colleagues for opening up their homes to enable us to provide this service to customers. We’re here to support in any way we can during these challenging times and more than anything, I hope our customers and their families are keeping safe and well”, he added. Skoda’s Virtual Showroom service has been offered since 2017. In addition to being offered a detailed look at the vehicle through a live-stream, customers can also be guided through a step-by-step configuration process. +++

+++ Despite SSANGYONG ’s decision to go ahead with a self-rescue plan after its largest shareholder Mahindra scrapped the cash-strapped Korean unit last week, some experts say the South Korean automaker’s weak exports may have led to the latest crisis. Indian auto empire Mahindra said it won’t invest 500 million won ($410 million) for a turnaround, as requested, considering the global economic downturn due to Covid-19. The parent company’s decision has left SsangYong’s future uncertain after an accumulated 411 billion won in losses over 12 consecutive quarters, as it has already been conducting a strong self-rescue plan (20 % reduction in executives’ salaries and the cancellation of 22 categories of welfare benefits) to reengineer its business since last year. This has reportedly created some 100 billion won of capital to the automaker. But market experts said the one-time capital infusion in the ailing automaker is not the solution, rather it is now the time to address and fix the fundamental task of strengthening its lineup and increasing product competitiveness. SsangYong’s latest saleshit was in 2015, with the Tivoli. Over 300.000 units of the compact SUV have sold globally, but there have been no follow-up models since then. SsangYong has injected some 350 billion won over 4 years to develop the fifth-generation Korando that was launched in February last year. But its accumulated sales came to around 21.000 units as of this year, far behind the target goal of 30.000 units annually. Its rival Hyundai Tucson sold 672.141 units globally in 2019. “The Tivoli was a huge success, but the competitive SUV market was soon filled with a variety of compact SUV models, moving consumer attention to other new, latest models”, said professor Lee Ho-geun of automotive engineering from Daeduk University. Lee also cited SsangYong’s lack of an eco-friendly vehicle lineup. “Considering where other automakers are heading, in terms of vehicle development and the direction of the future automotive industry, SsangYong lacks an eco-friendly car lineup, including electric vehicles. This puts SsangYong in a difficult position to sell cars in both domestic and overseas markets”, said Lee. While other carmakers launched different sizes and models of SUVs, SsangYong has only released revamped or facelifted models, such as the Very New Tivoli, the Respec Tivoli and the Respec Korando. “It is also questionable that even after SsangYong launches a new model in 3 or 4 years after receiving Mahindra’s investment, if that model will be competitive and cost-effective enough to compete against other models”, said an industry insider who declined to be named. Others also cited a vicious cycle that SsangYong has faced, which begins from a lack of new models to low sales and finally accumulating losses, as well as lagging new car development. Lack of capital and infrastructure to develop new cars is also closely related to overseas sales, according to experts. “When you look at the automotive business, it is an industry that depends on economy of scale. That is, through a large-scale investment, the company launches a new model, sells them a lot, and based on the money gathered, another new model is developed — this is how the automakers sustain their brand”, said Kim Pil-soo, a professor of automotive engineering from Daelim University. Based on domestic sales, SsangYong ranked third here last year, following Hyundai (741.842 units) and Kia (520.205 units) with 107.789 vehicles sold. But when combined with global sales, SsangYong drops to fifth place, with General Motors Korea and Renault Samsung taking the third and fourth spots, respectively. Market data showed that SsangYong’s automotive exports took a downward turn from 2011, when the exports volume attributed to 65 % of its total production. Last year, its exports volume fell to 19 %. Experts said it is mainly due to SsangYong’s lack of a global sales network, despite having a foreign parent company. Compared to GM Korea and Renault Samsung, which are dependent on global headquarters for sales such as via the US Chevrolet network or Renault and Nissan network in Europe and Japan, respectively, M&M’s core market is India. “The Indian market is an emerging market, but still has weak purchasing power compared to other global markets. That is why the Tivoli and Rexton were not so well received”, said professor Kim. Although SsangYong strived to expand European sales by opening more dealerships in countries like the UK, its effort fell short due to a lack of capital to do so. Also, the impact of changing international relations between countries has influenced SsangYong’s export sales. In 2016, buoyed by Tivoli’s popularity, around 8.700 vehicles were sold in Iran. But following the US’ economic sanction on the country, exports to Iran came to a halt. With Saudi Arabia, SsangYong has clinched a product license deal for the local assembly of the Rexton Sports and Rexton Sports Kahn. Under the agreement, the company planned to produce up to 30.000 units annually of the 2 models from 2021. But after Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who led the deal, was removed by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the plan went back to square one. Others said that Mahindra’s step back from the bailout plan on SsangYong is a deja vu of 2010, when SAIC decided to abandon management rights. In 2004, SAIC bought a 51 % stake for $500 million, the first direct investment by a Chinese company in a Korean company. But 6 years later, the Chinese parent company gave up on SsangYong, citing the Korean unit suffering from a serious liquidity crisis due to plummeting vehicle sales amid a global credit crunch. Like when Mahindra acquired SsangYong Motor in 2011, SAIC had promised to retain all of Ssangyong’s current workers, continuously invest to maintain or expand domestic sales and manufacturing facilities, guarantee independent management and maintain the SsangYong brand. +++

+++ TESLA sold 10.160 vehicles in China in March; its highest ever monthly sales in the world’s largest auto market, the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) said. Tesla, which aims to produce 150.000 Model 3 sedans from its $2 billion Shanghai factory, sold around 30 % of the battery electric vehicles in China, Cui Dongshu, CPCA secretary general, said on an online briefing. Tesla sold around 3.900 units in February; up from 2.620 vehicles in January, CPCA data showed. CPCA uses a different counting method than Tesla’s deliveries. Overall passenger car sales in March were down 40.8 % from a year earlier. +++

+++ VAUXHALL boss Stephen Norman believes the UK’s virus lockdown is encouraging car buyers to embrace a new phone-based direct sales system his company is rushing to put in place, and is confident it will remain effective long after business returns to normal. Norman is so passionate about the new project that he is currently spending 2 hours a day personally answering phone calls from potential new Vauxhall customers. The company currently has roughly 12.000 cars in the pipeline between production line and dealer, a figure he says is “unusually low”.  “Even when we’re clear of the epidemic, I believe retailing will never go back to the way it was”, says Norman. “I expect car buyers to keep doing what we’re encouraging them to do now: phone the company, get a response from a human being who can guide them through the process, then carry on their business through the retail network in the usual way”. Norman believes this new trend won’t make dealers irrelevant, but is likely to threaten the cost base of what he terms “gin palace: dealerships, which he reckons are “already on overtime”. He says the eventual return to normal social values put extra focus to what he claims is a recent, society-wide overconsumption of premium products and values. “Before the epidemic this trend had already arrived in the food and clothing industries”, he says. “I think it’s coming to the car industry”. For this reason Norman forecasts increasing relevance for his bold Great Brit Plan; the recently launched Vauxhall advertising and marketing campaign featuring the post-Brexit slogan “New Rules Britannia” that was just beginning to benefit Vauxhall sales, especially in light commercials, when the epidemic hit. “Our plan could prove even more relevant than before”, says Norman. “I certainly expect it still to be working through next year. One thing is especially important: we have to be very careful not to take the fun out of car purchase. It’d be a disaster if we let it become boring”. +++

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN T-Roc range could potentially be bolstered by a high-performance GTE version in future, should the market produce sufficient demand. When asked during a press conference call if a performance plug-in hybrid for the T-Roc would be a good fit, VW’s Project Manager for Electrified Drivetrains, Kai Philipp, said: “Our MQB technology gives us the possibility to do so”. Should a new model make production, it would see the T-Roc become one of the more diverse model line-ups in the Volkswagen range, offering petrol, diesel and plug-in variants, not to mention traditional SUV and Cabriolet body styles. Power would come from the petrol-electric powertrain that’s widely used across the Volkswagen Group. A 1.4-litre turbocharged engine is paired with an electric motor, which is capable of producing as much as 245 hp in the new Golf GTE. That slots in very neatly between the 300 hp T-Roc R and the next step down, the 190 hp 2.0 TSI. However, the GTE would be more efficient than either: the 13 kWh battery should enable an electric-only range of around 65 kilometres, meaning that those with easy access to charging should cover their average daily commute with little to no petrol usage. Philipp stated, however, that the T-Roc GTE is not the current plug-in priority, but it’s bigger SUV brother is. “As we see it, we have the Tiguan SUV as one of the bestselling cars in its market”, he explained. “And that is what we focus on right now”. Volkswagen will expand its range of hot plug-in hybrid models in the future as a way of showcasing the performance potential of electrified technology, according to the firm’s electrified drivetrains boss. The firm recently revealed the Touareg R, which features a 462 hp plug-in hybrid powertrain based around a 2.9-litre V6 engine. It joins the newest version of the Golf GTE, which has been upgraded to offer 245 hp to match the new petrol-engined Golf GTI. Volkswagen will further expand its plug-in hybrid offerings this year with new Tiguan GTE and Arteon GTE models, both of which are likely to use the same powertrain as the Golf GTE. Philipp said that offering high-performance plug-in hybrid models will help to prove the sporting credentials of both electrified and electric powertrains. “This is one means of making electrified cars attractive: they can combine pure electric driving capability with high performance if the driver wants to use it”, he said. “With a plug-in hybrid system, that performance comes with no compromise in terms of torque or power, so we wanted to use the two components to make the car as attractive as possible”. Asked if all Volkswagen performance models could feature a PHEV powertrain option in the future, Philipp said: “We’re on a long-term path to reduce our carbon emissions, so of course the share of battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars in the range will grow, which means that our offering of pure ICE cars will decline”. While plug-in hybrid technology is often considered a stop-gap offered by manufacturers to lower fleet average emissions while sales of electric cars remain small, Philipp said he expected demand for PHEVs to continue to grow, potentially for the next decade. “It’s my personal view that the peak for plug-in hybrid cars is still ahead of us and will come in the next 8-10 years”, he said. “But it’s strongly dependent on the market success of pure electric cars”. +++

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